Review and Giveaway: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

With the success of HBO’s Big Love and the recent raid on the polygamist compound in Texas, there is a lot of interest in the subject of polygamy.  The idea of a harem:  one husband married to multiple wives, underage girls marrying much older men, huge households filled with children, a community cut off from the outside world, women in prairie dresses and braided hair, husbands keeping “marriage manager notebooks” to keep track of how often they visit their wives’ beds- it’s fascinating and titillating subject matter.

David Ebershoff takes on this sweeping topic in his book, The 19th Wife, giving the reader both a contemporary murder mystery and a historical view of plural marriage.   The stories are parallel and not totally interconnected, allowing the reader to get the big picture- the history and it’s effect on current times- without confusion. 

There is the historical story of Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young’s wives, who divorced him after 5 years and went on to help end polygamy by speaking out about it.   Told with depth and clarity, from many viewpoints and with various fictionalized documents, letters, and research papers (even a wikipedia entry!), we get a good sense of the history of the Mormon religion, the early days of the church and its Prophets Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and the divine revelation of celestial marriage that nearly caused it’s downfall. 

There is also the modern day story of Jordan Scott, a gay 20 year old who was turned out of an FLDS polygamist household, ordered by his father to be dumped along the side of a highway by his mother at age 14 because he was caught holding the hand of his step sister.  Jordan, living in California, sees a news story on the internet about his mother, also a 19th wife, being arrested for killing his father.  He travels back to Utah to see his mother in prison to find out what happened.  He becomes convinced of her innocence and proceeds to investigate, with the help of his mother’s attorney, his secretary, Johnny (a street smart 12 year old, also turned out by the sect), and Tom-also gay and estranged from the Mormon Church because of it. 

I liked both stories very much and think that together they make for an intricate and well rounded portrayal of the complex issue of polygamy; the reasons it existed in the past and why it is still around on the fringes of society today.  While reading The 19th Wife, I wasn’t clear on what was fact and what was fiction, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.  It wasn’t until I read the Author’s Note and Acknowledgements at the end that I understood that the documents were entirely fictionalized, which was fine except I wished I’d known that from the beginning.  It was all very realistic and believable.  

The 19thWife is a great book.  It drew me in and put me into the minds of people struggling with their faith, questioning their beliefs and their leaders, and wrestling with difficult decisions, something we all do.  And isn’t that what excellent historical fiction should do-present differing viewpoints and make you think?  This book is wildly successful in that area! 

You can visit David’s website for all kinds of fascinating info at The19thWife.com.  It’s interesting to note that in 1875, Ann Eliza Young really did write a bestselling and controversial memoir, Wife No. 19, and you can download and read the original memoir from David’s site. 

So, have I piqued your interest?  Want to read the book yourself?  If you’d like a chance to win a hardcover First Edition copy of The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, leave a comment here by Friday, November 7th.   So sorry- this is only open to residents of the US and Canada due to shipping expenses. 

I received this book as part of David’s TLC Book Tour, and he also generously sent me a 2nd signed and personalized copy to keep (thanks, David!) but what’s up with that date?  My calendar says 2008! 

David Ebershoff has been all around the blogosphere doing interviews and guest posts.  Here’s his schedule if you’d like to follow his tour:

David Ebershoff’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Wednesday, Oct. 15th:  Maw Books (Natasha got to meet David at a book signing!)

Thursday, Oct. 16th:  Maw Books (review)

Friday, Oct. 17th: Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement (guest post and review)

Monday, Oct. 20th:  She Is Too Fond Of Books (will have another post soon with David answering questions from readers)

**Check out this post at She Is Too Fond Of Books about a book signing with David

Tuesday, Oct. 21st:  Age 30 – A Year in Books

Thursday, Oct. 23rd:  A High and Hidden Place

Monday, Oct. 27th:  It’s All About Books (guest post) and review

Tuesday, Oct. 28th:  Musings of a Bookish Kitty (review and author interview)

Thursday, Oct. 30th:  Books on the Brain (giveaway)

Monday, Nov. 3rd:  The Cottage Nest

Tuesday, Nov. 4th:  B&B ex libris

Wednesday, Nov. 5th:  Anniegirl1138

Thursday, Nov. 6th:  The Tome Traveller

Friday, Nov. 7th:  Educating Petunia

Monday, Nov. 10th:  The Literate Housewife

Wednesday,  Nov. 12th:  Diary of an Eccentric

Friday, Nov. 14th:  Book Chase

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Tuesday Teasers

Miz B and Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:
Grab your current read.
Let the book fall open to a random page.
Share with us two (2) sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
My teaser comes from page 205 of The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, a novel about the history of polygamy in the United States and specifically in the LDS church.  David will be on tour through TLC Book Tours beginning October 15th, and stopping here at Books on the Brain October 30th (I’ll be giving away a 1st edition copy of the book).  You can view the full schedule HERE.

I’m expanding this teaser from 2 sentences to 4 just so that it makes sense.  This is from a section in the book where Chauncey Webb is asking the first Mrs. Webb for permission to take a 3rd wife.

I had probed Mrs. Webb’s most tender spot.  She could not deny that the Prophet had made this clear.  Her faith was always pure, while I layered mine with expediency.  I am ashamed of many things, but none so much as when I excused my passions in the name of God.

Oh!  This book is so good!

Play along, won’t you?  Show me your “teasers”.

Sunday Salon

It’s finally SUNDAY!  I think a lot of us bloggers have a BBAW hangover this weekend.  So many posts to read, so many giveaways, so many awards and so much excitement!  It was a great week, put on by the tireless My Friend Amy, who did a phenomenal job putting it all together and keeping track of everything.  A round of applause for AMY!  (clap, clap, clap)

My BBAW giveaways will be ending this week too;  this one on Monday, and this one on Tuesday.  Hurry and enter if you haven’t already!

Fall has arrived here in Southern California. I used to love this time of year growing up in Michigan- back to school, sweater weather, fall colors, apple picking.  The change of seasons is more subtle in So. Cal. but when you’ve lived her awhile you start to notice small things.  We go from hot to warm, green to brown, and dry to not quite as dry, over the course of several months.  It’s still blazing hot right now, but it cools off in the evenings, and it’s chilly in the early morning.  The kids are back in school (and already have tons of homework), and by next weekend we’ll start to see pumpkins and scarecrows on porches to remind us that it’s fall, since the weather doesn’t offer much of a clue.

I’ve got so much reading lined up but it’s a challenge to find time.  My husband is in China on business, so I’ve been a “single mom” for the past week.  Things I’ve had to do without him include:

* going to Back to School night alone

* taking the girls on an overnight campout at their school (I  made the kids put the tent up, so it wasn’t that bad- it was just the carting things back and forth and the sleeping on the ground that sucked!)

* dealing with the emotions (“I miss daddy” sniff sniff)

* hauling the garbage cans to the curb and back (his job)

* feeding the dog and picking up poop (also his job)

* taking my youngest to her golf lesson (always a daddy/daughter thing)  

On the plus side, I’ve only cooked dinner once all week.  A couple nights we had leftovers, a couple nights we went out, and one night we had “breakfast for dinner”.  Oh, and I haven’t shaved my legs.  Ha!

Right now I’m reading Peony in Love by Lisa See.  I’ve wanted to read this since it came out, but was waiting for my book club to vote it in.  So far I LOVE it.  I was already a big fan after reading Snow Flower, now I’m a bigger fan.  Her writing is so lush and evocative- you get such a sense of the surroundings, you can almost smell the jasmine on the breeze.  Lisa is going to join our book club meeting in October by speaker phone and we could not be more excited!  

Next on the TBR pile is Immortal by Traci Slatton for Jennifer’s online book club at Literate Housewives (not to be confused with her regular blog, Literate Housewife). This one is somehow a cross between historical fiction and time travel.  It’s set in Florence in the 14th century, and the back cover says something about a golden boy having to make a choice between immortality and his only chance to find his true love (I’m paraphrasing wildly).  

After that, it’s on to The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff for a TLC Book Tour stop here on October 30th.  It’s about Ann Eliza Young, 19th wife of Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon church.  There’s also a parallel story about a present day murder in a polygamist family.  I can’t wait to start it.  

And last, but hopefully not least, I’ll be reading Run by Ann Patchett.  The only Patchett I’ve read is Bel Canto, which I intensely disliked, but because my friend Jill at Fizzy Thoughts liked Run so much, and then offered to send me her copy, I’m going to give it a try.  I’m also interested in Patchett’s Truth and Beauty, about her friendship with Lucy Grealy (Autobiography of a Face), so I’m going to give her a second chance, and then possibly a third.  

I’m curious- If you’ve read a book that you didn’t like at all, do you give an author another chance and read more of their work?  Or do you “fire them” forever?  

Happy Sunday!